Authoritarian and Democratic Times + Critical Theory before Neoliberalism
Authoritarian and Democratic Times
Today, almost everyone will pay lip service to the virtues of democracy, but democracy is in a global crisis. I approach the current crisis of democracy in terms of a conflict of temporalities. I argue that the pace of the market and its speed in decision-making clash with the slowness of the democratic process in decision making. The attempt to synchronize these incommensurable temporalities configures the expansion of executive powers and more visible authoritarian tendencies. From this perspective, “authoritarianism” can be interpreted as an outcome of the clash of temporalities. Authoritarian governments must be understood as symptoms of an ongoing transformation in sovereignty and its relationship with democratic practices and procedures. Such transformations have at least two far reaching implications. The first of these comprises the erosion and “privatization” of state functions so much so that the very notion of sovereignty is itself altered. This is a fragmentation of sovereignty orchestrated from above. Second is the fragmentation from below, one that is apparent in the many practices of local self-government. Both of these dimensions claim autonomy from the state. My goal is to examine these phenomena, which include forms of authoritarianism, populism, and neoliberalism, not just in terms of crisis or decay of existing formations, but as symptoms capable of point us to an open field of possibilities.
Critical Theory before Neoliberalism
Neoliberalism, neo-fascism, neo-authoritarianism, post-Fordism, post-neoliberalism … These are only some of the many and fast proliferating designations used to name our present. But are these categories adequate to understand the present conjuncture? Or do they assume a unilinear periodization that is untenable for the complexities of the global condition in which we live? In this presentation, I aim to problematize these historicizations, critiquing their underlying logics and attendant premises. I unpack some of the historical parallels that are drawn to justify these historicizations, especially with the experiences of authoritarianism in the European interwar period. In discussing these parallels, I will explore what insights the first generation of scholars identified with the Institute for Social Research, known as the “Frankfurt School,” as thinkers who have advanced piercing and enduring analyses of these experiences, may have to offer for understanding our present and discuss the potential limitations of their critiques.
Massimiliano Tomba (Ph.D. in Political Philosophy at the University of Pisa) has taught Political Philosophy at the University of Padova (Italy). He has specialized in German classical philosophy during his stay in Germany (University of Würzburg, Münich, and Hamburg). Since 2012, he has been acting as co-director of an international project whose aim is to rethink the predominant schemes of interpretation of global society in order to overcome the prevailing Eurocentrism in conceptions of universalism, space and time. Among his publications Krise und Kritik bei Bruno Bauer. Kategorien des Politischen im nachhegelschen Denken, Peter Lang, 2005; La vera politica. Kant e Benjamin: la possibilità della giustizia, Quodlibet, 2006; Marx’s Temporalities, Brill, 2013; Attraverso la piccolo porta. Quattro studi su Walter Benjamin, Mimesis, 2017. His new book Insurgent Universality. An Alternative Legacy of Modernity, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.
& Banu Bargu
Banu Bargu’s research brings together political theory, anthropology, philosophy, global history, and Middle East studies around questions of the body, power, violence, and resistance practices. As a political theorist, her main areas of focus are modern and contemporary political thought, poststructuralist and critical theory. She is the author of Starve and Immolate: The Politics of Human Weapons (Columbia University Press, 2014), which received APSA’s First Book Prize given by the Foundations of Political Theory section and was named an Outstanding Academic Title by Choice. She is the editor of Turkey’s Necropolitical Laboratory: Democracy, Violence, and Resistance (Edinburgh University Press, 2019) and the co-editor of Feminism, Capitalism, and Critique: Essays in Honor of Nancy Fraser (Palgrave, 2017). Bargu has previously taught at The New School for Social Research, New York City, and SOAS, University of London. Her scholarship has been recognized by a number of fellowships, including the Mercator fellowship and the ACLS, and she was a member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, during 2020-2021.